The ongoing speculation over whether former Olympian and Kardashian-adjacent dad Bruce Jenner is transgender took a particularly offensive turn when InTouch Weekly magazine released their latest cover, featuring Jenner in makeup and feminine garb, along with the headline “Bruce’s Story: My Life as a Woman.” No, that makeup isn’t real, and no, that’s not even his body. It’s Dynasty star Stephanie Beacham's.
Reaction to the cover was swift, with trans people, allies, Jenner’s ex-wife Kris, and just about anyone else with a modicum of human decency pointing out how offensive, transphobic, and ridiculous the altered image is. The offensive image being used to peddle magazines in the supermarket line is based on years-old speculation about Jenner’s gender identity.
I really didn’t want to have to write anything about Bruce Jenner because, to be entirely honest, it makes me angrier than any post about celebrity gossip rightfully should. The more I thought about it, and the more I dove into the number of outlets who were willing to report speculation and gossip about Jenner, the more my faith in modern media waned. InTouch, TMZ, Radar Online, International Business Times, The Daily Mail — I could go on and on naming publications that have gleefully jumped on the “Is Bruce a woman!?” bandwagon, no matter how unethical such “reporting” actually is.
Best-selling author and host of MSNBC’s So POPular! Janet Mock took InTouch to task for their irresponsible, offensive move, slamming the cover as “shockingly insensitive, sensational, and inaccurate.”
“The headline reads: ‘Bruce’s Story: My Life As a Woman.’ Let’s be clear: This is not Jenner’s story. Jenner has not stepped forward as a woman or uttered a word about being transgender,” Mock says. “What is true is that the story is pure speculation, the kind of tabloid gossip I’m guilty of laughing at while getting a pedicure. This cover is the latest in a long line of public speculation regarding the Olympian’s gender identity, which has been under the media’s glare since 2009 when The Family Guy made Jenner’s gender and genitals a punchline.”
Mock goes on to refer to speculation about Jenner’s gender identity as “a modern-day freak show,” and that it helps spread the idea that being trans is something laughable. She continues, “It’s this destructive thinking that pushes trans people deeper into isolation, it’s this thinking that leads many to justify the disproportionate violence trans women of color face, it’s this thinking that convinces a 17-year-old girl that her only option for peace is to jump in front of a truck,” Mock says, referencing trans teen Leelah Alcorn’s recent suicide.
British journalist Paris Lees penned a similarly blistering op-ed at Vice. Lees writes:
Do you have any idea how fucking depressing it is looking for people like yourself in public life when you are trans? And seeing the constant barrage of bullshit they have to put up with? The stupid questions, the jokes about their appearance, the relentless, merciless need to point and laugh?
Some people are outraged by the cover, but they're outraged in the wrong way if you ask me. You know it shouldn't actually be offensive for a man to be made to look like a woman. The idea that femininity is humiliating is pretty offensive to women, to be quite honest. And feminine men. So don't be mad because InTouch ‘humiliated’ Bruce by making him look like a woman. Be mad because they completely and utterly trounced his right to self-determination.
In reading the online version of InTouch’s article (sadly, looks like I’ll have to hop into the nearest line at my local grocery store if I want to see the other “shocking photos”), several things jump out at me. For one, despite the fact that just about every other article on the site comes complete with an author’s byline, “Bruce Jenner’s Transformation: How Does He Plan on Coming Out as a Woman” is credited simply to the magazine, itself. If both the magazine and the article’s writer felt there’s nothing ethically wrong with this reporting, why is it that they’re afraid to put their name on it?
Compounding this issue, InTouch’s website suggests a related article from their archives: “Bruce Jenner and More — The Biggest Scandals of 2014!” Scandal? This isn’t a scandal. There is absolutely nothing “scandalous” about being transgender; that is, unless you see trans people as freaks. The true “scandal” is that InTouch and the other bottom-feeders of the media industry have no qualms about promoting speculation as fact, citing “unnamed sources,” and Photoshopping reality to match the narrative they’ve built. That’s what’s scandalous.
The article also suggests that Jenner plans to make his big “coming out” on the cover of The Advocate, one of the country’s foremost LGBT publications. This, like so much else, seems to have been pulled from thin air.
"I’m astounded that Bonnie Fuller’s Hollywood Life would claim to have ‘all the details’ on Bruce Jenner’s ‘big magazine plans’ because their story is a total fabrication — like InTouch’s distressing Photoshopped cover," said Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate. "Neither publication has any insider source with knowledge of The Advocate's planned coverage."
Even with its firm denial of knowledge surrounding Jenner’s gender identity, and the string of articles condemning the speculation, even The Advocate* — along with its sister publication Out — have engaged in it themselves just last September when The Advocate editor-at-large Diane Anderson-Minshall tried to goad Transparent creator Jill Soloway into a guessing game about Jenner’s identity in an interview for Out. Not even LGBT outlets can resist grabbing at such low-hanging fruit.
Some have argued that Jenner has made himself “fair game” for this type of criticism as a result of being a part of a successful reality TV show. Those people are completely and totally missing the point. For one, no, Jenner didn’t agree to have every single aspect of his life made public; he agreed to have certain parts of his life filmed. Secondly, this isn’t just about Bruce Jenner; this is about the kids still coming to terms with their gender, the people who have recently come out, and those of us still hoping for the world to change. Magazines like this send the message that being trans is weird and something to be ashamed of, something to laugh at. That’s ridiculous. These messages build a world where it becomes so easy to feel subhuman for no reason other than your gender. These messages quite literally kill.
Is Bruce Jenner trans? I have no idea, but rather than speculating, I’ll wait to see if the decathlon champion says so himself. It’s not OK to assume anyone’s gender, plain and simple (and yes, that also means not to assume everyone you meet is cisgender, or not trans). Journalists should know better than to engage in such reckless behavior, but then again, it’s this recklessness that sells magazines, I suppose.
*Full disclosure: I’m a former contributor to the magazine’s website, Advocate.com.